The Truth About Democrats And The Gun Meeting

It isn’t often that I vehemently disagree with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. Last night was one of those times. In fact, O’Donnell’s “Rewrite” segment may have been the single Image result for lawrence o'donnell and rewriteworse segment any progressive or liberal on television has ever put together, as well-meaning as it was.

The segment was essentially O’Donnell’s editorial take on the bipartisan meeting yesterday between various members of Congress and Tr-mp that was supposed to be a brainstorming session designed to come up with ways to stop the carnage in America’s killing fields, especially our schools. Instead the made-for-TV meeting, sometimes weirdly featuring giggling and guffawing, was a dazzling display of ignorance and authoritarian stupidity on the part of Tr-mp, which was predictable and therefore fatiguing, and an embarrassing display of impotence and groveling on the part of Democrats, which was unwarranted and therefore disheartening.

But let me give you a little bit of what O’Donnell, who was once a top staffer in the U.S. Senate, said in defense of those Democrats, including two senators who have been our champions on gun control, Dianne Feinstein and Chris Murphy:

The Democrats clearly made a calculation before the meeting started to approach the meeting professionally in the hope of actually getting something done. Any one of the Democrats could have become a big media star tonight by repeatedly explaining to the president [sic] how wrong he is, how ignorant he is, and how much of a problem he and his party have been for gun legislation.

So, every Democrat in the room resisted the urge to attack the president for his own position on gun policy after all previous mass murders because it was a meeting in which there was cause for some hope of strengthening background checks, which everyone in the meeting including the president [sic] seemed to be in favor of.

Now, leaving aside O’Donnell’s ridiculous and too-cynical assertion that any Democrat who would have stood up to Tr-mp in that widely covered meeting would have done so merely to “become a big media star,” let us quickly look at the bill most discussed during yesterday’s meeting that would strengthen background checks, known as the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

All the Joe Manchin (D)-Pat Toomey (R) bill, which failed to pass in 2013 almost entirely because of Republicans, would essentially do about strengthening background checks is expand existing checks to include gun shows and Internet sales (while, incredibly, expanding the interstate sale of guns). That is just about it. The bill does not restrict the sale of any type of weapon between private parties. And, as a tribute to the NRA, the bill goes out of its way to outlaw any type of gun registry, even though a gun registry is already outlawed.

I ask Democrats in Congress this: Is the Manchin-Toomey legislation, in this moment of increased pressure on Republicans to act, really the best you can hope for? Huh? Is Manchin-Toomey what you are going to bring back home to your fired-up and fired-on constituents and ask for votes?

O’Donnell later commended Senator Feinstein for playing the role of the Proper Senator, which he said was, “to never give up hope that there can be some progress, even minor progress, even in the age of Tr-mp.” Then the former Senate staffer said something stunning:

The job of Senator, done well, is never easy. But in the age of Tr-mp the job of being a Democratic senator has never been more difficult. Never. The easiest thing for Democratic senators to do in the room with the president [sic] today would be to attack him, to show how much smarter they are than he is. But the Democrats didn’t do that. They chose professionalism over grandstanding in the very slim hope that they might actually get Donald Tr-mp to sign something, the slim hope that Donald Tr-mp might force the Republicans in the House and Senate to take a baby step in the right direction…

For people who hate Donald Tr-mp and wanted to see him attacked by those Democrats today it was probably a difficult meeting to watch. But if you know what professionalism looks like in the Senate and the House, you know that what you saw today was Democrats whose oath of office obliges them to never give up hope.

First of all, there are hard jobs in this life. But being a U.S. Senator isn’t one of them, for Democrats or Republicans. It may be a frustrating job, but it ain’t hard. And, in fact, for Democrats “in the age of Tr-mp,” the job is much easier, if they stop being Proper Senators while meeting with Tr-mp in front of TV cameras and stop pretending that Tr-mp is a person they can do business with. If DACA didn’t teach them that lesson, then they are unteachable. The job is easier for Democrats not only because they don’t have to defend the indefensible Tr-mp like Republicans have to do, but because they are dealing with a principle-less know-nothing in the Whites’ House whose words uttered in a meeting staged for television are only worth something because they are worth ignoring.

Secondly, it is shameful, in this powerful cultural moment in which the momentum is swinging in the right direction, to merely cling to a “very slim hope” and beg Tr-mp and the Republicans for a relatively tiny victory like Manchin-Toomey. I mean, I am typically an incrementalist regarding most things, but the “slim hope” strategy is absolutely shameful right now. This is the time to aim high, much higher than a bill, which itself is a compromise of a compromised bill, that fails to do a damn thing about the availability of battlefield weapons on American streets.

Joe Manchin said this morning that his bill represents an opportunity to get “meaningful change.” Well, the meaning of “meaningful” has changed. And Democrats need to shout that truth to Tr-mp and to all Republicans who seem to be in a state of permanent prostration before Wayne LaPierre and the gun lobby. And if Republicans stay prostrated, that will make it easier for newly energized gun control voters to roll over some of them in November, so long as there is a tough gun control Democrat on the ballot.

Finally, as for O’Donnell’s claim that alleged Tr-mp-haters “wanted to see him attacked by those Democrats,” he’s wrong on two counts. Most of us don’t hate Tr-mp. Or at least we shouldn’t. He’s clearly a disordered human being whose mental disturbances should arouse in us something much more akin to pity than hatred. What we should hate, though, is the undemocratic system that initially empowered him and the Republican Party that keeps him in power. What we should hate is the Tr-mp administration’s corruption and incompetence, even as we fear the public is getting used to it.

And most of us didn’t want Democrats to attack Tr-mp yesterday just for the sake of attacking him. We wanted Democrats to attack the phoniness and hypocrisy of the entire enraging spectacle. We wanted Democrats to defend President Obama, who himself was attacked and slandered by Tr-mp at that meeting. We wanted Democrats to show a skeptical country, particularly skeptical young folks who are just getting their first taste of political activism, that there is at least one party willing to fight for bold—bold—reforms like reinstating the assault weapons ban and implementing truly universal background checks, even if the fight is hard and the outcome uncertain. What we wanted was a group of Democrats who refuse to initially and meekly settle for “baby steps in the right direction.” 

But we got none of that at yesterday’s bizarre meeting. What we got was weird talk about mental health and phony talk from Tr-mp about “comprehensive” legislation that will never, never, never happen. What we got was talk of banning bump stocks and of passing the “Fix NICS,” legislation, neither of which should even be the slightest bit controversial, but for some NRA-related reason is. We got talk of making kids wait until they’re 21 before they can legally buy weapons of war and do God-knows-what with them.

We also got a familiarly confused Tr-mp who seemed to embrace an assault weapons ban as he was playing his self-created and always poorly acted role of “dealmaker.” What we got was an authoritarian Tr-mp openly urging the subversion of due process under law, an assertion that if it had ever exited the lips of President Obama would have gotten him impeached or lynched or both.

And, perhaps most disturbing of all, we got some giddy and “optimistic” Democrats who think yesterday’s meeting somehow put Tr-mp in a bind, as if his ethically-empty words could ever bind him to anything.

In short, it was an embarrassing, pathetic, and unhelpful hour in American politics.

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Twenty-fifth Amendment Remedies

The video I have posted below is about twenty minutes long. It’s from “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on MSNBC. I recommend investing the time to watch it, if for no other reason than as a way to familiarize yourself with a relatively unknown part of our Constitution.

As everyone knows, the MSNBC evening lineup during the week features three left-of-center personalities: Chris Hayes, a 30-something liberal journalist from the Bronx, who has been in the trenches of progressive activism since he graduated from college; St. Rachel Maddow, a 40-something journalist from California with a doctorate in politics from Oxford, who happens to be the first openly gay person to host a big-time prime-time show on American television; then there is Lawrence O’Donnell, a 60-something Harvard graduate and self-admitted European socialist who majored in economics and became a writer, most notably a writer for, and producer of, the popular television show The West Wing, for which he won an Emmy award. Oh, and he was a senior advisor to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a staff director for the Senate Finance Committee.

Of the three hosts on MSNBC’s evening programming, O’Donnell, in my opinion, is the most original thinker, at least in terms of what he does on his show. I like Chris Hayes and his youthful exuberance and intellectual debating style. I love St. Rachel and her ability to connect seemingly disparate stories into one coherent and informative narrative. What I enjoy about O’Donnell, though, is his willingness to go where others fear to go, as demonstrated in the following segment (actually two segments I captured into one) that explores a topic few people would dare to touch on cable television.

What lends a strong sense of legitimacy to the otherwise unorthodox discussion you will hear in the video below is the presence of Laurence Tribe, the renowned professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School who was once considered to be on the short list of any Democratic president’s Supreme Court nominee list. Tribe’s credentials as a scholar of the Constitution are beyond question, and the fact that he has argued cases before the Supreme Court some 36 times makes him arguably the preeminent source of thought on liberal jurisprudence—that is to say, common sense jurisprudence—in the country.

To provide some background, the Twenty-fifth Amendment was adopted in 1967, after the Kennedy assasination revealed the uncertainty surrounding the incapacity of the president and just how, if a president was allegedly unable to perform the duties of the office, would the system deal with the situation, not just if the president recovered from a clear incapacity but if he (or someday “she”) challenged an apparent one. How would all this work and who would decide?

For the purpose of the discussion below, here is the relevant provision in the amendment, found in Section 4:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Now, to the discussion:

Two Reasons Why The Darren Wilson Grand Jury Did Not Reach The Right Decision

A lot of people, good people, believe that the grand jurors did the right thing when they did not indict Darren Wilson for any crime related to his killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. I’m not one of those people, as you all know. Neither is MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.

In my last attempt to change minds on this matter, I post below two segments from O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” program from earlier in the week. The first segment has to do with the witnesses in the case, centered on the one known as “Witness #10,” who ostensibly corroborated Officer Wilson’s testimony and who ostensibly was beyond impeachment.

The second segment has to do with a Missouri statute, dealing with a police officer’s use of legal force in making an arrest. Just before Officer Wilson’s hours of testimony, prosecutors presented to the jurors, either mistakenly or intentionally, that state statute, which had been written to authorize the reasonable use of deadly force against a suspect running away from a police officer. Later on the prosecutors had to tell the jurors that they may not want to “necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn’t comply with the law.” Yes, because that “portion”—the portion which authorized the use of deadly force against a fleeing suspect—was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

I urge all of you, those of you who think the grand jury did the right thing, those of you who may not be sure, and those of you who just want to know a little more about what happened inside that grand jury room, to watch these two segments:


“We All Go Through Something In Life”

That’s a good thing that you just giving up, and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.

—Antoinette Tuff, bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., speaking to would-be mass murderer Michael Brandon Hill

while many news outlets are, rightly, focusing on the revelation that the National Rifle Association has secretly—I repeat: secretly—collected “information about gun owners from state and local offices and has built the country’s largest privately held database of current, former and prospective gun owners,” Clare Kim began an article on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell blog this way:

A 20-year-old man who went to a Georgia elementary school with an AK-47 assault rifle and close to 500 rounds ammunition told a school clerk that he was prepared to die in the attack. But the woman calmly persuaded him to lay down his weapon. According to 911 tapes released Wednesday, Michael Brandon Hill said he didn’t care about dying and should have just gone to a mental hospital.

The details of this amazing story, a story that seems to contradict everything the NRA’s propaganda machine pumps out like a mass-murder unloading his AK-47 into innocent victims, I will let Lawrence O’Donnell present:

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Margaret Thatcher, R.I.P.

She was Britain’s first and only female prime minister and served longer in that capacity than anyone in the twentieth century. If that weren’t remarkable enough, the iconic Meryl Streep portrayed her in a major movie.

On Monday morning, as the news of her death broke, on MSNBC—what some, somewhat overstating the case, call the broadcast home of American liberalism—the Iron Lady’s death brought forth mostly effusive praise of her and her accomplishments. On Morning Joe again this morning, more praise.

I confess: when I was a conservative, she was one of my heroes. Okay, my heroine.

Thus, it is only fitting that the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, as historically important as it is, deserves more than hagiographic commentary, and Chris Hayes, new to MSNBC’s evening programming, did Thatcher’s legacy justice, at least from the point of view of a thoughtful liberal, in two segments:

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Finally, as only he can do, Lawrence O’Donnell put in perspective the important relative differences between British conservatism and American conservatism, differences overlooked by those who essentially put Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the same ideological boat:

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I have a 17-year-old son. He’s white, not black. Thus, he is less likely to get shot to death  in America.

Yet another African-American kid, this one also 17 years old, was killed in Florida, home of Trayvon Martin. And home of a very cruel experiment with a law savagely called, “Stand Your Ground.”

Here is a picture of the man accused of murdering the latest teenager, Jordan Davis, on Black Friday in November:

Take a good look at 45-year-old Michael Dunn. Around here where I live, he could be a neighbor, or, God forbid, a friend or a relative. Dunn, who lives in Satellite Beach, was in Jacksonville for his son’s wedding. He was on his way back to his hotel, with his girlfriend, when they stopped at a convenience store to get a bottle of wine.

Here’s how one television station reported the relevant facts:

Jordan Davis, 17, and some other teens were sitting in a SUV in a parking lot when Dunn parked next to them and asked the youths to turn down their music.

Jordan Davis and Dunn argued over the music, then Dunn, who is a gun collector, pulled a gun and shot eight or nine times, hitting Jordan twice, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Jordan Davis’ father Ron Davis said his unarmed son died in the arms of a friend in the SUV.

It was Ron Davis who appeared, along with his son’s mother, Lucia McBath, on Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word last night.  There was obvious anguish. There was restrained outrage that television often produces.

The boy was listening to music. Perhaps the music was too loud. Perhaps it was offensive. Perhaps the teens acted rudely. But was the music so loud and so offensive that an allegedly rude teenager deserved the death penalty? Huh?

Even though police found no weapons in the SUV Jordan Davis was in, Michael Dunn, through his lawyer, will argue—is arguing—that he saw, “a shotgun coming over the rim of the SUV,” and “he knows a shotgun when he sees one because he got his first gun as a gift from his grandparents when he was in third grade.”

Is that when this madness starts? Third grade?

God, help us.

“A Day Of Shame”

I implore all of you, all of you who care about our once-cherished political institutions, to watch Lawrence O’Donnell’s “Rewrite” segment from Tuesday night’s program (posted below), a segment detailing the Senate’s rejection, by a vote of 61-38, of the United Nations treaty to ban discrimination against people with disabilities. The treaty, which was negotiated under and initially signed by George W. Bush, needed 66 votes to pass.

Missouri’s Republican senator, Roy Blunt, was in the minority, in the minority of “shame,” as O’Donnell, who worked in the Senate for seven years, would have it. So were both senators from Kansas. And bob dole in senate chamberboth senators from Oklahoma. This shameful minority is emblematic of what is wrong with the Republican Party, of what is wrong with a significant number of our fellow Americans who support such extremism and paranoia, as exhibited in that Senate vote.

Before you watch the segment below, I want to relate a personal note. My cousin, Larry, was afflicted with polio as a kid. I thought about him when I heard what Republicans did in the Senate on Tuesday.

More than twenty years ago, when I was a die-hard conservative, Larry sat in his wheelchair, in my living room, and explained to me why parking lot spaces, those closest to a building’s entrance, were rightly reserved for disabled folks and why that was a good thing. Why providing for unfettered access to sidewalks and buildings was also a good thing, and not a big-government infringement on liberty, as I then thought all such things were (yes, again, that’s why this is a “Blog of Repentance”).

Larry, who has since passed away, made me think, and then later convinced me, that I needed to enlarge my perspective and see things from the point of view of someone who had to maneuver through life over and around unnecessary obstacles, obstacles that could easily be removed out of respect for the dignity of folks who, for one reason or another, could not walk and thus could not surmount curbs and other ordinary, but artificial, barriers.

Yes, Larry made me think. And, God only knows, how much he made me re-think my extreme conservatism, how much he contributed to my release from the prison of reactionary philosophy. So, as you watch the following segment, know that, as I can testify, there is hope for those who disgrace themselves with obscurantist, right-wing zealotry:

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The NRA: “Defenders Of Movie Theater Mass Murderers”


If you didn’t see Tuesday night’s “Rewrite” segment by Lawrence O’Donnell, then you must. It is by far the best bionic elbow strike ever landed on the NRA and its $1,000,000-a-year  leader and “blood-drenched lobbyist” Wayne LaPierre. This is one of O’Donnell’s best:

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Should Democrats Allow Us To Go Over That Cliff?

On Wednesday night’s edition of The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell, brilliantly, suggested a Democratic strategy for winning the war on taxes, in terms of getting rates raised on the top two percent of wealthy Americans.

He simply urged Democrats to let all of the Bush tax cuts expire on January 1 (go “over the cliff”) and then immediately introduce a bill to cut taxes only for those making $250,000 or less, leaving the Clinton-era rates in place for the wealthy. He argued that given the Republican Party’s undying loyalty to Grover Norquist and his tax pledge, they would have no choice but to support the Democratic proposal. How could they defend not voting for a tax cut for 98% of Americans?

O’Donnell reminded viewers that they would have to tolerate a short period in January where their taxes would go up, but after the legislation passed they would get a retroactive refund of those increased taxes.

Now, as I say, this appears to me to be a brilliant strategy and one that has potential. My only concern is that those Bush tax cuts for everyone under $250,000 should not become permanent, but should be modified in the future, after the economy has sufficiently recovered, so as to  help get and keep our fiscal house in order.

Other than that, it may be a strategy that works, although as O’Donnell suggested, Democrats may not have the, uh, huevos to pull it off. We shall see, but it remains an interesting concept.

Romney And The NAACP

About Romney’s speech to the NAACP, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell told TheGrio’s Goldie Taylor the following on Wednesday:

Tell me, Goldie, if I’m being too cynical, to think that the Romney campaign actually went in that room today with the hope of getting booed, at least three times, because they want the video of their candidate being booed by the NAACP to play in certain racist precincts where that will actually help them.

There were other liberals, including Nancy Pelosi, who offered up the notion that Mittens had an ulterior motive when he went to Houston and deliberately used the word “ObamaCare,” as in,

I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like ObamaCare…

Pelosi said that Romney made a “calculated move” to “get booed,” which he most certainly got after the ObamaCare remark.  Now, I wasn’t one to initially and cynically think Mittens deliberately sought the disapproval of a room full of black folks in order to exploit white angst around the country.

But then I saw this report:

Mitt Romney says he wasn’t surprised by the chorus of boos he received Wednesday morning when he said in a speech to the NAACP National Convention that he plans to repeal President Obama’s national health care law.

“I think we expected that,” Romney said in a taped interview with Fox Business Network, scheduled to air Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Well, although I am normally quite ready to suspect the worst of Republican presidential candidates, I am not quite ready to believe that Mitt Romney went to Houston and exploited his father’s memory in order to appeal to American racists.  Romney said this to the group:

The Republican Party’s record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect. Any party that claims a perfect record doesn’t know history the way you know it.

Yet always, in both parties, there have been men and women of integrity, decency, and humility who called injustice by its name. For every one of us a particular person comes to mind, someone who set a standard of conduct and made us better by their example. For me, that man is my father, George Romney.

It wasn’t just that my Dad helped write the civil rights provision for the Michigan Constitution, though he did. It wasn’t just that he helped create Michigan’s first civil rights commission, or that as governor he marched for civil rights in Detroit – though he did those things, too.

More than these public acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God.

I’m grateful to him for so many things, and above all for the knowledge of God, whose ways are not always our ways, but whose justice is certain and whose mercy endures forever.

I am sure the folks in the room would have been grateful if Romney had taken the occasion of mentioning his father’s civil rights work to assure black voters that he opposes Republican efforts to suppress their votes, as the party is doing all over the country. But, alas, he didn’t. And no one was surprised at that.

But as I said, I resist the temptation to question Romney’s motives in speaking to the NAACP. Did he deliberately go there to appear reasonable? Did he go there to stir up the crowd, hoping he would get some kind of outrageous response? (For the most part the crowd was quite respectful.) Beats me.

I am willing to leave it at this: After the speech, Romney said to Fox:

I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country…

Maybe Mittens really does think his top-down, give-the-rich-more economic philosophy will eventually trickle into black homes and help black families, as well as all Americans. And it is that delusion that I find ultimately more dangerous for the country, including all the folks who gathered in Houston to hear Mr. Romney speak.

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